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Thomas Sowell Pines for A Military Coup

A “random thought” from Thomas Sowell:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Steven Taylor, who studies Latin American politics for a living, is not a fan of military coups, although he allows in the comments as to how a Babylon 5 scenario might be an exception.

Having spent a good part of my life in and around the military, I can see as to how a coup might improve the degeneracy situation. (Although I hasten to add, the military is not a degeneracy-free institution.) It would, however, come at the cost of virtually all freedom. Not to mention consent of the governed and various rights deemed “inalienable” by the Founders.

UPDATE: I agree with my colleague Steve Verdon and several other commenters that it is unfair to Sowell to suggest he wants a coup. Sowell has a sufficiently long track record that I’m confident that he’s not a “militant anti-democratic extremist.” This is likely just a one-liner by a frustrated man. Still, it’s a pretty silly thing for a man of his intellectual caliber to write — especially in the context of lamenting “degeneracy.”

Steve Bainbridge, who is firmly anti-coup, is nonetheless intrigued by the “alternate history” feasibility angle. Like me (and I suspect, many of you) he’s seen “Seven Days in May” and thinks the plot far-fetched. Not only would it be logistically problematic because of the separation of the military into numerous Services and Reserve/Guard components but the media would be hostile. And, he hastens to add, it would be anathema to the very culture of the United States military.

I agree completely.

Still, Air Force colonel (and JAG) Charles Dunlap pondered this very question in a classic article for Parameters in 1992 called “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.” The piece is fiction, starting from the perspective of an old War College graduate looking back from a post-coup future and reflecting on the events that led us there. It is a warning against the politicization of the military he saw rising in the early 1990s as well as some social sentiments that are reflected in Sowell’s random thought.

If we’re ever going to get our freedom back, we’ve got to understand how we got into this mess. People need to understand that the armed forces exist to support and defend government, not to be the government. Faced with intractable national problems on one hand, and an energetic and capable military on the other, it can be all too seductive to start viewing the military as a cost-effective solution. We made a terrible mistake when we allowed the armed forces to be diverted from their original purpose.

[...]

Americans became exasperated with democracy. We were disillusioned with the apparent inability of elected government to solve the nation’s dilemmas. We were looking for someone or something that could produce workable answers. The one institution of government in which the people retained faith was the military. Buoyed by the military’s obvious competence in the First Gulf War, the public increasingly turned to it for solutions to the country’s problems. Americans called for an acceleration of trends begun in the 1980s: tasking the military with a variety of new, nontraditional missions, and vastly escalating its commitment to formerly ancillary duties.

Though not obvious at the time, the cumulative effect of these new responsibilities was to incorporate the military into the political process to an unprecedented degree. These additional assignments also had the perverse effect of diverting focus and resources from the military’s central mission of combat training and warfighting. Finally, organizational, political, and societal changes served to alter the American military’s culture. Today’s military is not the one we knew when we graduated from the War College.

This, too, is not a stretch:

Furthermore, well-meaning attempts at improving service life led to the unintended insularity of military society, representing a return to the cloistered life of the pre-World War II armed forces. Military bases, complete with schools, churches, stores, child care centers, and recreational areas, became never-to-be-left islands of tranquillity removed from the chaotic, crime-ridden environment outside the gates. As one reporter put it in 1991: “Increasingly isolated from mainstream America, today’s troops tend to view the civilian world with suspicion and sometimes hostility.” Thus, a physically isolated and intellectually alienated officer corps was paired with an enlisted force likewise distanced from the society it was supposed to serve. In short, the military evolved into a force susceptible to manipulation by an authoritarian leader from its own select ranks.

Now, for reasons Bainbridge highlights, I think a coup is vanishingly unlikely. But the isolation of the military from society, the fact that most of our elites, including politicians, have never served, and the military’s sense of itself as a bastion of decency and honor in a country going soft and corrupt is not a welcome trend.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. . Steven Taylor calls it an “obscene suggestion,” and asks if “Sowell has ever actually studied countries where the assumption was that the military could sweep in and “fix” things.” James Joyner points out that it would save the country only at the cost of eliminating “virtually all freedom. Not to mention consent of the governed and various rights deemed “inalienable” by the Founders.” Kevin Drum

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  2. opining in the Wall Street Journal that whatever that pesky Constitution suggests, what America really needs is a monarch who will ignore the “rule of law” when it suits him. 2. Conservative intellectual Thomas Sowell pining for a military coup in the United States. 3. And the National Review, opining against a homosexuality-encompassing “hate crime bill” (which I also don’t support) out of fears that it will trespass on “thoughts [that] are part of the historic teaching of our major

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  3. RJN says:

    Remove the women from the voting rolls.

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  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Smart people sometimes say dumb things. It may be one of the reasons we so rarely elect intellectuals to the presidency.

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  5. I’m chalking this one up to age.

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  6. jpe says:

    Sowell is an intellectual?

    Ha! Keep ‘em coming.

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  7. Tlaloc says:

    While a coup seems a pretty far fetched idea I do wonder now and again about an amicable division of the US into two to four smaller states. Sometimes it seems like the ideological differences are so extreme that we’d be better off having a few democracies, each representing their local populous, rather than trying for one huge one.

    Democracy seems to have more inefficiencies when done large, rather than economy of scale effects.

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  8. Edgardo says:

    Sowell’s best “random thought”

    I am so old that I can remember a Democrat, at his inauguration as president, say of our enemies: “We dare not tempt them with weakness.”

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  9. Edgardo says:

    Reading again the title of your post I think you’re wrong. Sowell is not pining for a military coup. He’s frustrated that one day there will be no choice but to ask the military to take power.

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  10. Barry says:

    Edgardo – first, how often is that the situation, as opposed to the military leadership *deciding* to take over. Second, did Sowell throw up even an anecdote to support the argument that a military coup might be necessary (let alone actual evidence or data)?

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  11. Barry says:

    James: “I can see as to how a coup might improve the degeneracy situation. (Although I hasten to add, the military is not a degeneracy-free institution.) ”

    LTC Yngling’s famous recent article included the phrase (quote from memory) ‘as the situation stands, a private who loses his rifle faces worse punishment than a general who loses a battle’.

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  12. Steve Plunk says:

    Sowell is thinking out loud, not pining for a coup. If you read his “random thoughts” on a regular basis you will see these are no academic papers but simply throwing things out to be discussed.

    If certain people keep undermining our faith in democracy and fair elections we may have to have something like this to keep order. How close were we in 2000? Who decides in close elections or what if a party decides not to accept the results (as many have)?

    This is being overblown.

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  13. A Military Coup? Could it Work?…

    Thomas Sowell has said something rather silly:When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this…

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  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Isn’t everybody assuming that Sowell sees a military coup as a good thing? I don’t see him assuming that.

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  15. Michael says:

    Sometimes it seems like the ideological differences are so extreme that we’d be better off having a few democracies, each representing their local populous, rather than trying for one huge one.

    Isn’t that called Federalism?

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  16. Steve and Steve:

    Sowell wrote: the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup

    The implication here is not that some day we might fall under the cloud of coup, or that things may degenerate into something terrible like a coup. No, he states that it might take a coup to SAVE the country. That is dangerous thinking no matter how you slice it, and an attitude that has certainly been popular in other places at other times. The Brazilians thought so in the 1960s, and they didn’t get to directly elect a president until 1990. The Turks are flirting (again) with that notion right now.

    The Argentines, the Chileans, the Peruvians and any number other places have thought that a coup could “save” them. They never do.

    The military is a hierarchical organization whose main tool is force. Does that sound like a source of salvation for a democracy?

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  17. spencer says:

    He is saying so many people have values so different from his that it might be preferable to have the military use force to impose his values on them.

    Anyone who thinks this clearly does not believe in the concept of democracy that I believe in.

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  18. Tlaloc says:

    Isn’t that called Federalism?

    Federalism is just a two tiered system. I’m talking about actually separate nations.

    Steve:

    If certain people keep undermining our faith in democracy and fair elections we may have to have something like this to keep order.

    Hrrrrm. “Certain people.” Like people who politicize our justice system? People who fight time and again for voting systems that are routinely found to be insecure and lack any meaningful audit capabilities? People who relentlessly attack the separation of powers based on which branches they currently hold.

    Yes, there are certain people undermining democracy, fortunately their party just lost control of congress and looks to lose the presidency as well.

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  19. Tlaloc says:

    No, he states that it might take a coup to SAVE the country.

    We had to destroy the village to save it.
    -US Army officer in Vietnam

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  20. Steve Verdon says:

    The military is a hierarchical organization whose main tool is force. Does that sound like a source of salvation for a democracy?

    Sure seemed to work a little over 200 years ago.

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  21. Edgardo says:

    As Sowell, I’m an economist. I´ve been reading Sowell for over 30 years and I know very well his books and articles. So I think I know what he meant with this “random thought” (he has written “random thoughts for many years).

    To Steven Taylor, I’m Argentinian living in Chile and who have worked in many countries over the past 50 years. I’ve lived over many coups and only in one or two cases cases I’d say they saved democracy. But in most cases, before the coup democracy had been lost because of civilians struggling for power and threatening a civil war. As an economist I’ve been trained to think in terms of alternatives, please tell for me any episode of your choice what alternative there was to the military coup.

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  22. [...] Conservatives Must Abandon Their Anti-Democratic Extremists By CernigJust before the midtems, RNC-led talk of traitors in the American midst – a body of traitors that turned out to be rather more than half the voting electorate – reached a slimy pinnacle with the RNC’s midterm ad “The Stakes” At the time I wrote about how conservatives who still believed in the democratic process where attempting to counsel their more militant brethren to be less extreme, giving several examples of that militancy all the way up to one rightwinger who hoped he “would be on the squads assigned to eliminate the left”.The appeal by conservatives to their extremists didn’t work. By February, Congressman Don Young (R-AK) used a fake quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln to argue that Democrats who criticized the President’s Iraq policy deserved to be “arrested, exiled or hanged.” At the time, Jeffrey Feldman wrote:What I see is a growing ease with which Republicans use the media to call for violence to be committed against Democrats. And as far as I can tell, they have been allowed to do this without any consequences whatsoever.Are these calls for violence harmless? They are not. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that even the most poetic calls for violence by conservatives in the media put them on a path to violence–a path that starts with insults, leads to death threats, and then ultimately arrives at actual murder.The problem is not just incitement, but the lack of consequences for this behavior.Three months later, and there are still no consequences for extremist conservatives who advocate the abandonment of democracy in America.Yesterday, Kevin Drum and others noted Thomas Sowell still whipping up the militant Right to violent totalitarianism with this:When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup. Other extremists were even more explicit. Take, for example, the rightwing Macsmind blog:The veto won’t change the unchangeable such as Pelosi and Reid, both of which should have their citizenship stripped and sent to hang out with Chavez. On a better note send Pelosi to live with the Taliban, I give her five minutes tops before – well, you know.Fact is that we – meaning the true conservatives have had enough of these malcontented traitors – pimples on the ass of Lady Liberty. …There comes a time in every country that has ever existed when one side – the strong side must do something other than play politics with the other. The present Democratic Party is beyond such reason. Thus there comes a time when if not by will, then by force they go. In other words, if the people won’t vote against the Democrats then author Macranger is quite happy to see violence used to keep them from power instead. One wonders if such a clear threat to “go postal” from a former career military type will garner any interest at all from the FBI.Many of the Right’s militant wing are more circumspect than Macranger has been, but many are not. In any case, Feldman is correct – “the problem is not just incitement, but the lack of consequences for this behavior”. Such threats and murmers towards abandonment of democracy do the rest of the conservative movement no favors. It’s time that Republicans as a whole stood up to their extremists and shunned their company – loudly. For not to do so is a tacit approval of their anti-democratic beliefs and will only entice some to attempt to act upon those beliefs. The problem is analogous to that of extreme advocates of violent racism. Until the majority vocally shunned them, they could hide behind the rationale that what they were saying and doing had the tacit approval of a far wider majority who simply lacked the nerve to act as they did.Update Glenn Greenwald writes today about another totalitarian on the extreme right, Harvey Mansfield, who in the Wall Street Journal online today sets out the militant’s rationale for a totalitarian takeover:The president takes an oath “to execute the Office of President” of which only one function is to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” In addition, he is commander-in-chief of the military, makes treaties (with the Senate), and receives ambassadors. He has the power of pardon, a power with more than a whiff of prerogative for the sake of a public good that cannot be achieved, indeed that is endangered, by executing the laws. . . . In quiet times the rule of law will come to the fore, and the executive can be weak. In stormy times, the rule of law may seem to require the prudence and force that law, or present law, cannot supply, and the executive must be strong. Greenwald counters with the words of Thomas Paine. “In America the Law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.” As usual Glenn has a long and tightly written post and I’m not going to attempt to do it full justice here. Go read the whole thing.But, hearteningly, there are also conservatives who find this talk of coups and the suspension of law abhorrent. Dr. Steven Taylor and James Joyner are just two examples. But I hope they make it even clearer that there should be no more room under the conservative “big tent” for militant anti-democratic extremists. [...]

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  23. Spencer, democracy isn’t the end-all, be-all. It is merely a political means to a political end. The end being maximizng human liberty. History has shown democracy has been a mixed bag. An example of freedom without democracy was Hong Kong under British rule.

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  24. Steve:

    We had a war for independence–we never had military rule.

    Edgardo–you are correct, in most of the cases in question democracy was already lost (or may not have actually been fully present). But that isn’t the point–the point is that it was unusual in those cases for the cries to be for the military to “save” democracy. However, they never do. Indeed, I can’t think of a case of a coup that directly and quickly led to democratization.

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  25. And BTW: I am familiar with Sowell’s “random thoughts” columns. I haven’t been reading them for 30 years, but probably have been off and on for over a decade.

    The fact that Sowell is an economist strikes me as irrelevant to the situation.

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  26. I was a bit surprised at the quote myself. I attribute it to being in a snarky mood at a time when he’s getting too old to care any more. It doesn’t seem to reflect Sowell’s considered opinions, as layed out in his voluminous and (listen up, jpe) very scholarly writings.

    Curiously, I think Sowell would consider being called an intellectual an insult. To him, “intellectual” is an economic class whose definition has little to do with actual mental ability, and a class he doesn’t much care for.

    My own fear is that the military is less decadent than the ruling elite — and that this will, someday, tempt them to try to overthrow that ruling elite. Which is rather a different thing from approving of that coup. In a democracy, it’s the voters’ job to overthrow decadent ruling elites, at the ballot box. That this has not happened suggests the voters are themselves growing decadent.

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  27. Sean:

    I may be missing your point, but I would challenge you to find an example of military government in which the population was freer than they are under democratic governance.

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  28. Spurlee says:

    Speaking as retired military person, I understand what Dr. Sowell was trying to say. IMHO, he was pointing out the disparity between those who are elected to serve the nation but sacrifice the nation’s goals to serve their partisan political ends. The military, being apolitical, could serve to “right the ship.” The fact that there has never been a military coup here is proof of the ethos of our military that civilian leadership trumps all situations. I can see no event that would lead our military to stage a coup. None.

    That said, there is a lot of overheated discussion here from people who seem to think that a) Sowell was hoping for a coup; and b) that we should all fear that event. Neither is true or possible. I suggest that you settle down with a little chamomile and let all those evil thoughts drift away.

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  29. Steven,

    My point is we put democracy on a pedestal and treat it as being all good. It’s not holy, just a tool to an end.

    I want to keep my eye on the goal of maximizing liberty while respecting the rights of others. I could write books full of examples of the democratic process in the U.S. stomping on liberty. A volume could be devoted on the New Deal alone.

    Democracy is a useful means, and historically it correlates with liberty. However, it’s not the only way. I’d consider the rule of law to be more important than democracy. I use British-ruled Hong Kong as an example because its people’s level of freedom was astoundingly high, on many levels higher than the U.S. Yet people didn’t vote on rulers.

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  30. Tano says:

    As a random thought meant to provoke discussion (the best possible interpretation of the remark, though a stretch), it perhaps has served its purpose. It has brought quite a few authoritarians out of the woodwork, and demonstrates that the committment to democracy is rather weaker in our population than many of us assumed.

    That there are Americans who concieve of liberty as disconnected from democracy, or that “degeneracy” amongst the rabble is something that perhaps should be addressed with force, is a bit mind blowing. Are you guys on some campaign to prove the kossacks right or something?

    Sowell, irrespective of his scholarly efforts, has always been deeply ideological. I imagine that I would have been roundly criticized for ever claiming that these sentiments were probably present at the end of his logical path, or were part of his ideological mindset. I thank him for clearing up the issue.

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  31. Edgardo says:

    Steven,
    My previous comment was divided into two parts. Only the second one was addressed to your point. Anyway, many of Sowell’s books and articles are about economics and if you’re an economist you can understand better his logic. Regarding your point, I suggest to other readers, James and you to read the last chapter of his Knowledge and Decisions (first ed. 1980, 2nd. 1996).

    Now your point is that leaders of military coups claim to save democracy but they are lying. Yes, you’re right, but it is irrelevant what people claim as their objective (a point that Sowell has made for the past 40 years). If you knew well LA, you would know that most coup leaders took advantage of a government’s collapse regardless of the nature of this government. So let me ask you again, what’s the alternative to a military coup when democracy collapses?

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  32. One might argue that Iraq is currently under a military government right now (or at least one propped up by the US Military), and it is almost certainly freer than it was under Saddam.

    (That ought to keep the thread going a while.)

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  33. Tlaloc says:

    One might argue that Iraq is currently under a military government right now (or at least one propped up by the US Military), and it is almost certainly freer than it was under Saddam.

    BARHDAD — A U.S. military brigade is constructing a 3-mile-long concrete wall to cut off one of Baghdad’s most restive Sunni Arab districts from the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that surround it, raising concern about the further Balkanization of Iraq’s capital.

    LINK

    Go Freer-dom!

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  34. Can A Military Coup Ever Be Justified ?…

    Several bloggers have written today about this quote from Thomas Sowell:
    When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing tha…

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  35. In regards to James’ update: I agree that Sowell isn’t wishing for a coup, but I still maintain that his inclusion of the notion that a coup might be needed to “save” the country to be disturbingly dangerous one.

    Edgardo,

    I don’t mean to dodge your question, but that strikes me as a far more complicated question than can be answered in the comments section of a blog–indeed, it would depend on the case. I would say that in Chile it would have been far better to have allowed Allende to finish his term–that was a case where the military did, in fact, break democracy. A little electoral reform to eliminate plurality winners would have been a good idea as well…

    Sean,

    Just as a point of clarification–democracy is more than just choosing one’s rulers (although I take your point about the separation of personal liberty from elections). When I am talking about democracy, I am meaning not just the mechanism of leader-choosing, but also the presence of substantive rights for the population.

    And, for that matter, Hong Kong aside, one is hard pressed to find examples of substantive rights sans basic democracy.

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  36. Steven, I agree fully that Hong Kong is one of the few exceptions. Makes me wonder why.

    As for defining democracy I worry that too many take democracy as simply voting for one’s rulers. Such lazy thinking leads to populism which I find abhorrent. I prefer a term like “democratic republic” so one understands a limited government respecting human rights is what I as a conservative strive for.

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  37. Edgardo says:

    Steven,
    Indeed this is not the place to discuss in detail any past coup, but your idea that Allende could have finished his term (three more years to complete his 6-year term) indicates that you really don’t know Chile’s situation at that time. I moved into Santiago, Chile, as a professor in January 1973 and I can tell you that I still don’t understand how a civil war didn’t break up after the Congressional election of March 4. Anyway, you should read all Chilean newspapers of the first 8 months of 1973 to have an idea of how democracy had collapsed well before the military decided to intervene. In particular I suggest that you read El Siglo, the Communist Party’s newspaper, and the many statements made during that period by Carlos Altamirano and other UP leaders.
    Let me say that you have chosen the worst example to make your case. Your argument could have made some sense in Argentina, at least for some of the coups (in particular the one of March 1962).

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  38. ron says:

    After looking at excepts for the Sowell column, the initial discussion about a military coup being the only way to save the country, I put that aside as one response to an ever increasing problem of people using the general principles of the United States against it and what can/will be done about it in the future.
    During the 90’s, it was the Neo-Nazi/White Supremest as well as fringe Judeo-Christian groups people felt were a threat to the United States, however the Gov put them down with little significant backlash. Up to that point, they had operated with relative impunity hiding behind the constitution.
    We now see the threat of certain sects from some religions taking advantage of the constitution to potentially do very bad things to this country in the long run. However, they are not Nazi’s, or Christians, which are about the only groups one can get away with vilifying in this country with out being called a bigot As they continue to use the laws of this land to their advantage; what will be done? We may very well turn back the clock to the Jim Crow days except it will be the rot of a religion which erodes civil rights. What if roving gangs of religious fanatics enforce their religious law counter to secular law? But actual prosecution brings with it the threat of more and greater violence on jury, judge , etc. Juries simply vote “not guilty” so they can survive another day. When, how and who affects a change? At some point, does a military coup become the last remaining option to a frightening theocracy? Not saying it will happen, hopefully assimilation happens instead, just a few more “Random Thoughts”

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  39. Bithead says:

    As to the issue of Sowell thinking such a coup good or bad, I supose that to be a question of what you consider worse.

    I find the varied reactions reactions to Sowell’s comment… when tracked to their sources, (And the worldview of the speakers, particularly,) to be interesting.

    Yglesias, for example, seems all worried about the loss of rights, never considering the loss of rights imposed routinely by the government such a coup would replace.

    We all have our blind spots, I guess… and I suppose we’ve just been witness to the exposure of that of Yglesias, and other leftists.

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  40. [...] At Outside the Beltway there’s been a lengthy discussion of Thomas Sowell’s coup comment. There’s been talk about democracy and how better or worse off certain South American countries were because of coups. I’m defended my claim (involving definitions) that democracy isn’t the be-all, end-all to politics. I treat it as a means to a regime of liberty, even though some now think I’m an authoritarian coming out of the closet. [...]

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  41. Bandit says:

    Go Freer-dom!

    Building a 3 mile wall – running a totalitarian concentration camp for 30 years – same diff -

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  42. Edgardo,

    Again, comment sections and complex debates do not necessarily mix. I do understand that Allende may not have been able to actually finish the term, but bombing the presidential palace wasn’t the right solution, either. Even if we want to argue that Pinochet had to take over (an issue I would contest), the fact that Pinochet governed, and brutally at times, for 16 years, underscores the notion that military coups don’t save democracies.

    I question, by the way, the notion that rhetoric in partisan papers would necessarily be good measures of what would have happened.

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  43. Tlaloc says:

    Building a 3 mile wall – running a totalitarian concentration camp for 30 years – same diff –

    Note that those mass graves from 30 years of totalitarian rule hold less people than have been killed in our little four year experiment in freedom in Iraq.

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  44. Bandit says:

    First they don’t and second we didn’t kill them – it must be tough when you can’t get beyond ignorant hatred.

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  45. Tlaloc says:

    First they don’t and second we didn’t kill them – it must be tough when you can’t get beyond ignorant hatred.

    I’m sorry Bandit but I trust the well respected studies over your personal opinion of how many deaths have occured. I’m funny that way.

    As for your second contention, We certainly killed a lot of them, though not all by any means. But that doesn’t matter. Hussein didn’t personally kill the people in that mass grave either. We created the conditions under which some 600,000+ people have died.

    I find it ironic that you accuse the person relying upon hard data of “not getting beyond ignorant hatred” while you base your own views on unfounded optimism. It makes me giggle.

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  46. Steve Verdon says:

    We had a war for independence–we never had military rule.

    Yes I know, but it shows that your statement was inaccurate.

    And, I agree with Edgardo,

    Reading again the title of your post I think you’re wrong. Sowell is not pining for a military coup. He’s frustrated that one day there will be no choice but to ask the military to take power.

    That is exactly the right way to read that statement, IMO. Not that he sees it as a good thing, but that it is the only possible hope after things get really, really bad. That there isn’t much hope there highlights the frustration and dismay that Sowell is expressing.

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  47. Mike says:

    Sowell was not longing for a military coup.

    He’s an observer of history. If you read his article, the “degeneracy” he laments is the way in which our domestic political factions have lost the ability to engage in dialogue, negotiation, and compromise. Instead we are presented with a list of irresoluble issues over which two highly polarized groups shout slogans at each other. Taking the place of dialogue about real issues is the politics of personal destruction, in which the minutiae of a politician’s life, whether public or private, are raked through by those who oppose him, with the aim of finding some occasion to discredit him and remove him from office. The archetye of this was the attack of the Puritans upon Strafford and Laud, culminating in the passage of attainders against them and their subsequent executions in the period preceding the English civil war. In recent years, both of our political parties have used such tactics against their opponents; we saw it during the Clinton administration, and we see it in this one.

    If I take Sowell’s meaning correctly, he fears that our domestic politics now approach the point that Athenian politics did in the time of Demosthenes and Eubulus; the point that Roman politics did in the days of Marius and Sulla; or the point that English politics did late in the reign of Charles I. In other words, irresoluble political differences between highly polarized factions precede the collapse of the old order. Then the time is right for an Alexander, a Sulla, or a Cromwell to take charge.

    Such events never really “save” a country, but do impose order for the time being, and the lesson of history is that ordinary people acquiesce in authoritarianism because it is preferable to anarchy and disorder. Sowell is warning that we may be on the path towards having to choose between these disagreeable alternatives. This is hardly the same as wishing that it happen.

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  48. floyd says:

    Mr.Verdon; You clearly have it right!

    Mr.Joyner; Well done again!

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  49. Willie says:

    Oh come on. Why are people letting Sowell off the hook?

    He is obviously ADVOCATING the idea, since he says it would “save” the country. He could have said something more neutral, such as “there might be a military coup”, but he did not.

    Further, he isn’t saying this might be necessary because of terrorism or a Fifth Column or a strong communist underground movement, or anything like that which threatens our liberties, safety, etc.

    He’s saying it might be the only solution because we’re becoming too degenerate! Which to him means we’re having too much sex, allowing women to choose reproductive freedom, or whatever…

    In other words, he might advocate a military coup because most Americans don’t share his social values.

    He’s saying that if we exercise our freedoms too much, to his distaste, the only thing left to do would be to take our liberties away.

    Come on people, that’s disgraceful.

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  50. Ross Douthat says:

    [...] Now that everyone’s talking about Thomas Sowell’s yearning for a military coup, Professor Bainbridge tackles the more important question of whether a coup would work. As James Joyner has already pointed out, the definitive text on this matter is Charles Dunlap’s The Origins of the Military Coup of 2012, though I would also recommend the Harper’s symposium on the topic from a couple years back, whose roundtable included Dunlap, Andrew Bacevich, Richard Kohn and Edward Luttwak. Sadly, all those worthies were too sober-minded to take the possibility of an actual Seven Days in May all that seriously, and so the discussion turned rather quickly to the somewhat duller topic of civilian-military relations – but it’s still worth a look. [...]

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  51. [...] Yes, it is slightly worrying that National Review publishes material from people openly hoping for military coups, while it supports a president who backs torture and abridging habeas corpus. But hey, look on the bright side. It’s an interesting thought-experiment. Kevin Drum wonders what Buckley is thinking. We know what Buckley is thinking. He’s mortified as any decent conservative would be. James Joyner joins in here. [...]

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  52. [...] From a (Military) Parade of Thoughts… (Sowell the Authoritarian Version)I must confess, the following (from one of Thomas Sowell’s columns made up of short thoughts) to be utterly stunning: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia…  BLOG POST » Dr. Steven Taylor PoliBlog Wednesday, May 2TAGS: •  BlogRunner > Politics   •  PoliBlog > Dr. Steven Taylor   Who’s Blogging View as List View as Thread Most Relevant First Most Recent First Thomas Sowell Pines for A Military Coup James Joyner Outside the Beltway elap(‘1178125776′);A “random thought” from Thomas Sowell: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia.. … Steven Taylor, who studies Latin American politics for a living, is not a fan of military coups, although he allows in the comments as to how a Babylon 5 scenario might be an exception.Thomas Sowell Gets Old and Crotchety Sean Hackbarth The American Mind elap(‘1178132712′);Riffing pessimistically Thomas Sowell wrote, When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia.. … Taylor more so with his studies of Latin America where military coups resulted in much suffering.Conservatives Must Abandon Their Anti-Democratic Extremists Cernig NewsHog elap(‘1178111040′);By CernigJust before the midtems.. … Dr. From a (Military) Parade of Thoughts… (Sowell the Authoritarian Version) DR. STEVEN TAYLOR PoliBlog elap(‘1178122036′);I must confess, the following (from one of Thomas Sowell’s columns made up of short thoughts) to be utterly stunning: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia… Thomas Sowell Pines for A Military Coup Outside the Beltway elap(‘1178125776′);James Joyner: A “random thought” from Thomas Sowell: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia… Steven Taylor, who studies Latin American politics for a living, is not a fan of military coups, although he allows in the comments as to how a Babylon 5 scenario might be an exception. Conservatives Must Abandon Their Anti-Democratic Extremists NewsHog elap(‘1178111040′);Cernig: By CernigJust before the midtems… Steven Taylor and James Joyner are just two examples. Conservatives Must Abandon Their Anti-Democratic Extremists NewsHog elap(‘1178111040′);Cernig: By CernigJust before the midtems… Dr. Thomas Sowell Gets Old and CrotchetyThe American Mind elap(‘1178132712′);Sean Hackbarth: Riffing pessimistically Thomas Sowell wrote, When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia… Taylor more so with his studies of Latin America where military coups resulted in much suffering. Related BlogsThe Liberal-Neologistic ComplexKRISTON Grammar.police elap(‘1178119104′);Kevin Drum wtfs the National Review for publishing this line by Thomas Sowell: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when…BlogRunner > Media   Sowell Calls For Bush’s Overthrow?DANIEL LARISON Eunomia elap(‘1178118671′);When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.BlogRunner > Politics   Nutters Of The Mainstream Right MACSWAIN Comments From Left Field elap(‘1178110560′);Here’s Thomas Sowell in the National Review Online (via TNR):When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia…Banana Republicanism GORDON The Alternate Brain elap(‘1178110200′);I won’t link to the wingnut blathering that prompted this, but if you really want to see it you can find it at Kevin Drum’s piece:Quote of the day, from Thomas Sowell: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators…BlogRunner > Entertainment   On coupsJONATHAN Blogoland elap(‘1178104320′);Many are going cuckoo-bananas — appropriately, I think — over this quip from the conservative writer Thomas Sowell, who seemingly endorses a military coup against our current leader.When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media…Thomas Sowell’s cure for degeneracy TYLER COWEN Marginal Revolution elap(‘1178104231′);When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, oureducators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the daymay yet come when the only thing that can save this country is amilitary coup.BlogRunner > Economy   BlogRunner > Science   Tyler Cowen   Lament of the aging pundit LIBBY SPENCER The Impolitic elap(‘1178102220′);Thomas Sowell loses it in his latest column. Here at the old folk’s home we call this sort of aimless muttering, “a senior moment.” Kevin Drum, among others, seizes on the money quote.Thomas Sowell – I Used to Think He Was Only a HackCACTUS Angry Bear elap(‘1178093460′);I believe that Thomas Sowell is a hack.Sowell’s Coup Matthew Yglesias elap(‘1178083490′);This is interesting.DISCUSSION »BlogRunner > Media   Earth to Thomas Sowell: Francisco Franco Is Still Dead BRAD DELONG Brad DeLong’s Semi-Daily Journal elap(‘1178074365′);Thomas Sowell, fascist, writes in National Review: Thomas Sowell on National Review Online: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia…National Review columnist muses about military coup. NICO Think Progress elap(‘1178064974′);The National Review is on a roll.BlogRunner > Politics   Nico   Insight and Analysis MICHAEL CROWLEY The New Republic: The Plank elap(‘1178062940′);Courtesy of Thomas Sowell at NRO: When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.DISCUSSION »BlogRunner > Politics   Thomas Sowell’s Random ThoughtsAXEGRINDER axegrinder elap(‘1177996140′);””Thomas Sowell is regularly worth reading. BlogRunnerHomeMost Blogged 24 HoursTop StoriesDr. Steven TaylorNo Surpriseelap(‘1178133430′);Pat Buchanan and his Xenophobia Showelap(‘1178132147′);Hey Look! The System Works (Separation of Powers, Checks and Balances and the Supplemental)elap(‘1178110746′);Giuliani & Bracewellelap(‘1178110309′);Early Elections and Constitutional Reform in Turkey? (Plus, Another Attempt at a Presidential Vote)elap(‘1178073745′); blogrunner.com … e: feedback(AT)blogrunner.com … Wed May 2 17:06:04 2007 ET … Copyright (c) 2006-2007 The New York Times [...]

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